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Knee Jerk Reactions to Week 9: Patriots vs. Commanders

Things to consider as you take comfort in the fact that, while Jakobi Meyers continues to produce for his third quarterback and his second coach, at least we've got Juju Smith-Schuster and some sweet, sweet cap savings:

--Let's begin, as all football game reviews should, with an ancient philosophical thought experiment: The Ship of Theseus. First proposed by the essayist Plutarch, it's a paradox that describes the boat that Theseus and his crew sailed back from Crete and was preserved by the people of Athens as a historic artifact. Over time, the sails became weathered and torn, and were replaced. Later, the planks and decks warped and also had to be swapped out for new ones. Soon it was the masts which rotted, and they too were upgraded. Until eventually, there wasn't a single piece of lumber or nail that was part of the original ship. The question then became, is it still the same ship? If not, when exactly did it stop being the old one and became something else? And if you took all the old, rotted materials and put them in a pile next to the replica, which would be more the ship Theseus sailed on? By the same token, every cell in your body gets replaced every eight or 10 years, so are you the same being you were a dozen years ago? Subsequently, if the greatest football Dynasty of all times has nine players remaining from its last Super Bowl win, two of them are full time special teamers and one is a practice squad offensive lineman, is it still a Dynasty? If not, when did it stop being one? And if you took the 2018 team as they currently are, and lined them up against the 2-7 pile of rotted scrap lumber Bill Belichick has replaced them with, how many touchdowns would they win by? 

--I'm guessing these two great philosophers would say four or five:

--If there's an upside to all of this - and by no means is there one, but let's just say there could be for the sake of argument - it's that now Patriots fans have the one thing we lived without for the longest time. And that is the luxury of an insignificant loss. For the better part of 20 years, any game they lost was Footballmaggedon. They were so rare that any time it happened, it was the biggest story in the league. And their opponents' Super Bowl, sometimes complete with Gatorade showers. They meant potentially losing homefield advantage in the playoffs or even a bye week. So every loss was The Gridpocalypse. I laugh now when I look back at how I used to complain about it. How agonizing these close games would be because there was so much riding on every one. Yesterday's game was the first time I can remember feeling no stress at all. If nothing else, we "enjoy" the "privilege" (I'm using these terms so loosely they're going to fall off me and hit the ground) of a no-stakes home loss to a lousy team that we'll all have forgotten about by Thanksgiving. Which is ... a plus? Kinda? There's only so much humilation you can focus on. After a while, George McFly can't keep track of all the times he's been kicked in the pants walking down the school hall.

--For the record, I mean no disrespect toward the Commanders. But going in, I considered them to be just what the Patriots needed. That bar fly to know you can count on to get you out of a slump when no other woman will have you, because she's even more hollow and broken inside than you are. A derelict, depressed, demoralized franchise that's an easy lay when you need one. And yet Washington is the one that came out of this with its dignity intact. They won this game for no other reason then they are the better team. Let that sink in. 

--Another aspect of caring about a 2-7 team is that you finally get a taste for how the other half has been living all these years. The whole world making it be known no one cares about this one except the gamblers. Everyone just mailing it in. Listening to some friends describe the tailgate scene at Gillette, it sounded like the birthday party for the kid who has cooties that no one wants to be seen at but your mom forces you because that booger picker's mom is in her book club and she doesn't want things to be awkward. The league sent some officiating crew nobody recognizes and for all we know might have just been recruited from Foot Locker because they looked the part. And Fox sent it's roster bubble announcing crew, Kenny Albert, Jonathan Vilma and Shannon Spake, who essentially sound like the broadcast in the background of a Fraiser episode where they're in a bar to watch "the game." Everything about these Pats games now is generic. Store brand. Basic. We're living a knock-off, discount dollar store NFL existence. If were were cereal, we'd be Marshmallow Magic, Crispy Hexagons and Bunch O' Cinnamon Squares. We are the poors the rest of the country hoped we'd be. 

--I'll use Vilma as a jumping off point to get into the game itself. Because it was a weird call by him to drag Mac Jones so hard for a ball he put right on his putative WR1's hands:

The only unsafe thing about this throw was the ball placement. Meaning that he placed a tight spiral with perfect trajectory - low and safe, where it'll either be caught or end up on the ground - right between Smith-Schuster's palms. Which is apparently not where you want it to be. And by no means should we be singling out Juju. He's just the latest to join the Patriots Butterfingers Avengers Initiative. Belichick's idea was to bring together a group of of remarkable wideouts to see if they could become something more. To see if they could work together when we needed them, to drop the crucial, game-changing passes no one else could. DeVante Parker. Kendrick Bourne. Kayshon Boutte couldn't drag his toe in bounds in Week 1 and hasn't been seen since, no matter how decimated the receiver corps has gotten. Instead we got Jalen Reagor, who came to New England with a reputation for being a little dropsie with the handies, and more than lived up to it:

That drop was especially galling. Not just because Jones stood on his own 32 and the ball hit the ground on the Washington 10, though there is that. But because it was a perfect play design. Jones liked what he saw presnap so he checked out of the original call with "Uncle Drew!" and ran a play action that got the safety to bite, leaving Reagor 1-on-1 against Kendall Fuller on a deep corner against outside leverage. Jones had a clean pocket to step up into and delivered a laser strike. Those opportunities don't come up often, and when you get one, you can't squander it. Though this receiver depth chart has shown a genius for doing exactly that. 

--The damnedest thing about that is Reagor has been contributing in his own way. Once David Andrews and Michael Onwenu opened a hole and Cole Strange came up to the second level to wall off Jamin Davis, Rhamondre Stevenson needed one upfield block. And Reagor gave it to him at the 50:

But I guess asking a receiver to block AND catch is way too 2018. 

--And as long as I'm exploring the deep recesses of the dark place I'm in, I think it's now safe to say I blew $125 on a jersey just because it has my name on it and 11 has always been my number. Watch Tyquan Thornton here. This is a timing route. It's about getting the defender into a backpedal with the threat of your elite, world class speed and then making a sharp break to where the ball is going to be placed. Not stopping at the top of your route for a number from Riverdance:

Not only did Thornton meander upfield, saunter into his break and sashay toward the ball, but immediately gestured for the flag like he's some accomplished, unstoppable veteran who's proven he can't be covered without rules being broken. What I'd like to have seen covered on that play is Troy Brown's eyes. Mr. Patriot should never be subjected to such a display.

--Good on Hunter Henry for demonstrating that someone on this roster is capable of defeating single coverage and hauling in a pass thrown perfectly over his shoulder:

But not so much for the penalty that negated a 1st down on 4th & 3. Especially since it came after the lengthy time out between the 3rd & 4th quarters. Meaning the Pats had time to think about their best options. But it did remind me to put into my will that, if the worst should befall me and I end up on life support, that my family keep me alive just long enough to see the Patriots successfully pull off a Rub route without getting called for OPI. Once I've experienced that, even if I'm in a coma, I can die happy.

--If there was one factor that was the difference in this one, a single through line that lasted all game on both sides of the ball, it was how Washington was able to work to the outside and the Patriots couldn't. Sam Howell was working to the flats all game. I haven't seen his passing chart, but if you told me half of his 29 completions were behind the line of scrimmage I'd guess that number is low. And every time he completed one, it felt like his target had the 1982 Redskins offensive line in front of them. And seemingly every time Mac Jones hit someone on a screen, he was on his own and had to fight his way through defenders like a slow motion Zack Snyder fight sequence

--Consider the Brian Robinson touchdown. Josh Uche not only got caught too deep behind the line, he was put somewhere between the Earth's mantle and its inner core by John Bates as Kyle Dugger got blocked by Terry McLaurin. Ju'Whaun Bentley went unblocked by simply couldn't get there in time. And this was to the SHORT side of the field:

--And the Patriots defense was as guilty of garbage tackling as they were of being blocked by Joe Gibb's early '80s Hogs. Behold Howell passing through Jalen Mills and Adrian Phillips like a ghost to convert a 3rd & 23:

--As I get older, I find myself falling into the throes of nostalgia, more and more. Listening to old music. Watching TV I loved as a kid. Talking with my friends about good times from our youth. Daydreaming about the times the Patriots could make a stop on 3rd & long. Hell, just the days when they could keep it close with a bad team just knowing they'd eventually crack. That an inexperienced quarterback would force a throw sooner or later and they'd make him pay for it. Which is precisely what Kyle Dugger's interception was. He didn't pull off some coverage to get into the throwing lane or bait Howell into that throw. He was simply there. And benefited from a wet brainshart by a guy with 10 career starts. But sadly, those mistakes aren't fatal the way they used to be. This isn't the Patriots team I keep reminiscing about. You can mess up against the 2023 edition and know you'll get second, third, and 40th chances. And if nothing else is working, you can always target Myles Bryant:

Even a novice like Howell can see Bryant lined up on Jahan Dotson in the slot and know to a moral certainty he can beat him on a simple post route. JC Jackson didn't see the field for the first two Washington possessions. But Bryant was behind only Jonathan Jones in cornerback snaps. Despite the fact he came into the game with a passer rating against of 120.6, which is 8th highest in the league among corners with 245 coverage snaps. Losing Christian Gonzalez hurt like a son of a gun. Marcus Jones being out smarts. Jack Jones missing time earlier left a mark. But how Bryant continues to have the coaches' trust way out of proportion to his effectiveness is unfathomable. Even the most megalomaniacal, self-possessed youth coach would bench his own son after nine games like Bryant has had. As an act of mercy, if nothing else. You're just exposing the kid to bullying at this point.

--Speaking of the coaching staff playing favorites, did Kayshoun Boutte commit some crime against humanity we're not aware of? He was second among the wideouts in snaps in Week 1, Jones went to him on critical downs, and he hasn't seen the field since, no matter how thin they are on the outside. Reagor and Thornton were targeted 10 times between them, and caught one ball apiece. While if Boutte wants to get playing time, it looks like he's going to have to kidnap a coach Ruper Pupkin-style. 

--By way of positive contrast, Demario Douglas is proving to be one of those late round finds that fits right into this offense like it's a tailored suit. The way Malcolm Mitchell did in 2016 or David Givens did back in the Paleocene Era:

He runs good routes. Seems to have a sense for getting open, whether it's finding seams in zone or using his body to fight off man. Even that catch that was overturned on review was a great hand snatch, high pointing a ball in bracket coverage. I still hope and expect to see lots of Boutte (yeah, I hear myself). And Kendrick Bourne will always have a place here as long as I have anything to say about it. (I never will.) But the rest of this wide receiver depth chart can be shattered into a million pieces and scattered to the wind for all I care.

--I'm positively mesmerized by how many unforced errors, dumb decisions and unnecessary penalties the special teams units are making. Holds on fair catches. Deciding to field a punt inside the 10 and running backwards with it. An offsides on punt coverage that gives the Commanders a 1st down. It's inexplicable. But I suspect in a few days we'll get anonymous team sources calling out someone for being responsible for all of the mistakes. Then we'll know we've heard from Joe Judge, deflecting blame away from him.

--This Week's Applicable Movie Quote: "Doston! DOTSON! We've got Dotson here! See? Nobody cares." - Dennis Nedry, Jurassic Park

--I don't mean to sound like I've completely checked out from the Patriots, either mentally or emotionally. Try as I might. As a matter of fact, this was the scene at Stately Thornton Manor when the Irish Rose asked how the game went:

--I still can't get over the fact I was convinced Juju Smith-Schuster was WR1 material. I'll take that embarrassment to the grave.